AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A state district judge signed a temporary restraining order Sunday that blocks law enforcement from arresting any House lawmakers who have broken quorum.
Travis County State District Judge Brad Urrutia’s move temporarily restricts Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan’s power to arrest or detain any of the House Democrats who fled to D.C. earlier this summer in order to kill the controversial, GOP-backed elections bill.
This would allow Democrats still in D.C. to return to Texas without any fear of arrest or confinement. The suit was filed on behalf of 19 of the members still in D.C., which include State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), Rep. Trey Martinez (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas).
The order lasts 14 days, unless extended by Judge Urrutia.
“Angry Republican threats to dispatch troopers to arrest, cuff, shackle, drag in, and cabin duly-elected lawmakers isn’t just meant to chill our speech and impair our ability to represent our districts; it has left our families, friends, and neighbors anxious for our wellbeing and safety,” Rep. Hinojosa said in a statement Monday.
“The Senate is taking up the Senate Bill 1, which is a voter suppression bill, my colleagues and I would certainly like for our Senate Democrats to break quorum. But having said that, the House Democrats stay united overwhelmingly with our commitment to protect democracy,” Rep. Ron Reynolds (D – Missouri City), said Monday, “We are united with our commitment to break quorum to give the U.S. Senate a chance to pass HR 1, the For the People Act.”
The lawsuit was filed in order to call for a judgment that respects the liberty of Texas State Representatives to live freely without the threat of arrest for their personal convictions and political responsibilities. The lawsuit argues neither the Texas Constitution nor House Rules permit Gov. Abbott or the Texas House Speaker to detain, confine or otherwise restrict a Texas House Democrat’s movement within the State of Texas.
“Governor Abbott has been very boastful about arresting us when we return to Texas, which he has jurisdiction over. We know that we hadn’t breaking broken any penal code. There’s nothing in the law that says you cannot leave the state or break quorum,” Rep. Reynolds said Monday.
House rules say it may “compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.” The Senate rules say “Those for whom no sufficient excuse is made, by order of the majority of those present, may be sent for and arrested wherever they may be found and their attendance secured and retained by the Sergeant-at-Arms or officers appointed by the Sergeant for that purpose.”
Gov. Abbott’s spokeswoman Renae Eze said the Governor’s Office is confident the order will be overturned.
“The ruling by the Travis County judge is contrary to the Texas Constitution and violates the separation of powers between the different branches of government. We are confident that this overstep will be overturned. Texas Democrats need to stop the charades and get back to work,” Eze said in a statement Monday.
Speaker Dade Phelan’s Office responded to a request for comment, although pointed out they had not yet been served.
“Any legal filing that seeks to undermine the Texas Legislature and the Texas Constitution will be met with a swift response, and we are confident that the recent challenges made by a dwindling number of House Democrats to subvert the authority of the legislative branch will be overturned,” Phelan’s spokesperson, Enrique Marquez, said in a statement.
The court will hear arguments on a temporary injunction on Aug. 20.